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The War Dogs Trilogy
By Greg Bear
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- Trade Paperback (Combined volume) $21.99 $27.99 CAD
- ebook (Combined volume) $13.99 $16.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 12, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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The Gurus made their presence on Earth known thirteen years ago. Providing technology and scientific insights far beyond what mankind was capable of, they became indispensable advisors and promised even more gifts that we just couldn’t pass up.
But they were followed by mortal enemies — the Antagonists — from sun to sun, planet to planet, and now the Gurus are stretched thin — and they need humanity’s help.
Our first bill has come due.
Skyrines like Michael Venn have been volunteered to pay the price. They face insidious enemies who were already inside the solar system, establishing a beachhead on Mars.
Venn and his comrades will be lucky to make it out alive — let alone preserve the future of all of mankind.
This book is dedicated to my favorite Mustangers: LCDR Dale F. Bear, USN, Retired LCDR Richmond D. Garrett, USN, Retired
And by extension to all who served with them in WW2, Korea, and Vietnam.
I also express my appreciation to those friends who helped make this a better book, and I am honored to pass along their own acknowledgments:
David Clark (Vietnam): “I’d like to list my military forebears, men who served as an example for me. My father, Ken Clark, WW2 Navy Signalman; Cecil ‘Duke’ Crowell, US Navy hardhat diver, WW2; my grandfather Ernest Shultz, WWI Navy aviation pioneer; and my great-great-uncle George Booth, First Sergeant Company D, 155 PA Infantry, Army of the Potomac, American Civil War.”
Donald E. McQuinn (Korea, Vietnam): “My gratitude to every Marine of my past, and my thanks to our Marines of the present and future in the full confidence that they’ll never fail to add luster to our Corps. Semper Fidelis.”
Dan O’Brien (Iraq): “To the fallen Sailors and Marines of Kilo 3/12: Doc Noble, Cpl. McRae, Cpl. Zindars, and Lcpl. Lync, and all the others who fell on the moonscapes of Iraq and Afghanistan. No need to mention me, it seems trivial after mentioning them.”
I’m mentioning Dan anyway, because he helped, and he was there.
Heartfelt thanks to all for so much.
DOWN TO EARTH
I’m trying to go home. As the poet said, if you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are. Home is where you go to get all that sorted out.
Hoofing it outside Skybase Lewis-McChord, I’m pretty sure this is Washington State, I’m pretty sure I’m walking along Pacific Highway, and this is the twenty-first century and not some fidging movie—
But then a whining roar grinds the air and a broad shadow sweeps the road, eclipsing cafés and pawnshops and loan joints—followed seconds later by an eye-stinging haze of rocket fuel. I swivel on aching feet and look up to see a double-egg-and-hawksbill burn down from the sky, leaving a rainbow trail over McChord field …
And I have to wonder.
I just flew in on one of those after eight months in the vac, four going out, three back. Seven blissful months in timeout, stuffed in a dark tube and soaked in Cosmoline.
All for three weeks in the shit. Rough, confusing weeks.
I feel dizzy. I look down, blink out the sting, and keep walking. Cosmoline still fidges with my senses.
Here on Earth, we don’t say fuck anymore, the Gurus don’t like it, so we say fidge instead. Part of the price of freedom. Out on the Red, we say fuck as much as we like. The angels edit our words so the Gurus won’t have to hear.
Joe has a funny story about fuck. I’ll tell you later, but right now, I’m not too happy with Joe. We came back in separate ships, he did not show up at the mob center, and my Cougar is still parked outside Skyport Virginia. I could grab a shuttle into town, but Joe told me to lie low. Besides, I badly want time alone—time to stretch my legs, put down one foot after another. There’s the joy of blue sky, if I can look up without keeling over, and open air without a helm—and minus the rocket smell—is a newness in the nose and a beauty in the lungs. In a couple of klicks, though, my insteps pinch and my calves knot. Earth tugs harsh after so long away. I want to heave. I straighten and look real serious, clamp my jaws, shake my head—barely manage to keep it down.
Suddenly, I don’t feel the need to walk all the way to Seattle. I have my thumb and a decently goofy smile, but after half an hour and no joy, I’m making up my mind whether to try my luck at a minimall Starbucks when a little blue electric job creeps up behind me, quiet as a bad fart. Quiet is not good.
I spin and try to stop shivering as the window rolls down. The driver is in her fifties, reddish hair rooted gray. For a queasy moment, I think she might be MHAT sent from Madigan. Joe warned me, “For Christ’s sake, after all that’s happened, stay away from the doctors.” MHAT is short for Military Health Advisory Team. But the driver is not from Madigan. She asks where I’m going. I say downtown Seattle. Climb in, she says. She’s a colonel’s secretary at Lewis, a pretty ordinary grandma, but she has these strange gray eyes that let me see all the way back to when her scorn shaped men’s lives.
I ask if she can take me to Pike Place Market. She’s good with that. I climb in. After a while, she tells me she had a son just like me. He became a hero on Titan, she says—but she can’t really know that, because we aren’t on Titan yet, are we?
I say to her, “Sorry for your loss.” I don’t say, Glad it wasn’t me.
“How’s the war out there?” she asks.
“Can’t tell, ma’am. Just back and still groggy.”
They don’t let us know all we want to know, barely tell us all we need to know, because we might start speculating and lose focus.
She and I don’t talk much after that. Fidging Titan. Sounds old and cold. What kind of suits would we wear? Would everything freeze solid? Mars is bad enough. We’re almost used to the Red. Stay sharp on the dust and rocks. That’s where our shit is at. Leave the rest to the generals and the Gurus.
All part of the deal. A really big deal.
Grandma in the too-quiet electric drives me north to Spring Street, then west to Pike and First, where she drops me off with a crinkle-eyed smile and a warm, sad finger-squeeze. The instant I turn and see the market, she pips from my thoughts. Nothing has changed since vac training at SBLM, when we tired of the local bars and drove north, looking for trouble but ending up right here. We liked the market. The big neon sign. The big round clock. Tourists and merchants and more tourists, and that ageless bronze pig out in front.
A little girl in a pink frock sits astride the pig, grinning and slapping its polished flank. What we fight for.
I’m in civvies but Cosmoline gives your skin a tinge that lasts for days, until you piss it out, so most everyone can tell I’ve been in timeout. Civilians are not supposed to ask probing questions, but they still smile like knowing sheep. Hey, spaceman, welcome back! Tell me true, how’s the vac?
I get it.
A nice Laotian lady and her sons and daughter sell fruit and veggies and flowers. Their booth is a cascade of big and little peppers and hot and sweet peppers and yellow and green and red peppers, Walla Walla sweets and good strong brown and fresh green onions, red and gold and blue and russet potatoes, yams and sweet potatoes, pole beans green and yellow and purple and speckled, beets baby and adult, turnips open boxed in bulk and attached to sprays of crisp green leaf. Around the corner of the booth I see every kind of mushroom but the screwy kind. All that roughage dazzles. I’m accustomed to browns and pinks, dark blue, star-powdered black.
A salient of kale and cabbage stretches before me. I seriously consider kicking off and swimming up the counter, chewing through the thick leaves, inhaling the color, spouting purple and green. Instead, I buy a bunch of celery and move out of the tourist flow. Leaning against a corrugated metal door, I shift from foot to cramping foot, until finally I just hunker against the cool ribbed steel and rabbit down the celery leaves, dirt and all, down to the dense, crisp core. Love it. Good for timeout tummy.
Now that I’ve had my celery, I’m better. Time to move on. A mile to go before I sleep.
I doubt I’ll sleep much.
Skyrines share flophouses, safe houses—refuges—around the major spaceports. My favorite is a really nice apartment in Virginia Beach. I could be heading there now, driving my Cougar across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, top down, sucking in the warm sea breeze, but thanks to all that’s happened—and thanks to Joe—I’m not. Not this time. Maybe never again.
I rise and edge through the crowds, but my knees are still shaky, I might not make it, so I flag a cab. The cabby is white and middle-aged, from Texas. Most of the fellows who used to cab here, Lebanese and Ethiopians and Sikhs, the younger ones at least, are gone to war now. They do well in timeout, better than white Texans. Brown people rule the vac, some say. There’s a lot of brown and black and beige out there: east and west Indians, immigrant Kenyans and Nigerians and Somalis, Mexicans, Filipinos and Malaysians, Jamaicans and Puerto Ricans, all varieties of Asian—flung out in space frames, sticks clumped up in fasces—and then they all fly loose, shoot out puff, and drop to the Red. Maybe less dangerous than driving a hack, and certainly pays better.
I’m not the least bit brown. I don’t even tan. I’m a white boy from Moscow, Idaho, a blue-collar IT wizard who got tired of working in cubicles, tired of working around shitheads like myself. I enlisted in the Skyrines (that’s pronounced SKY-reen), went through all the tests and boot and desert training, survived first orbital, survived first drop on the Red—came home alive and relatively sane—and now I make good money. Flight pay and combat pay—they call it engagement bonus—and Cosmoline comp.
Some say the whole deal of cellular suspension we call timeout shortens your life, along with solar flares and gamma rays. Others say no. The military docs say no but scandal painted a lot of them before my last deployment. Whole bunch at Madigan got augured for neglecting our spacemen. Their docs tend to regard spacemen, especially Skyrines, as slackers and complainers. Another reason to avoid MHAT. We make more than they do and still we complain. They hate us. Give them ground pounders any day.
“How many drops?” the Texan cabby asks.
“Too many,” I say. I’ve been at it for six years.
He looks back at me in the mirror. The cab drives itself; he’s in the seat for show. “Ever wonder why?” he asks. “Ever wonder what you’re giving up to them? They ain’t even human.” Some think we shouldn’t be out there at all; maybe he’s one of them.
“Ever wonder?” he asks.
“All the time,” I say.
He looks miffed and faces forward.
The cab takes me into Belltown and lets me out on a semicircular drive, in the shadow of the high-rise called Sky Tower One. I pay in cash. The cabby rewards me with a sour look, even though I give him a decent tip. He, too, pips from my mind as soon as I get out. Bastard.
The tower’s elevator has a glass wall to show off the view before you arrive. The curved hall on my floor is lined with alcoves, quiet and deserted this time of day. I key in the number code, the door clicks open, and the apartment greets me with a cheery pluck of ascending chords. Extreme retro, traditional Seattle, none of it Guru tech; it’s from before I was born.
Lie low. Don’t attract attention.
Christ. No way am I used to being a spook.
The place is just as I remember it—nice and cool, walls gray, carpet and furniture gray and cloudy-day blue, stainless steel fixtures with touches of wood and white enamel. The couch and chairs and tables are mid-century modern. Last year’s Christmas tree is still up, the water down to scum and the branches naked, but Roomba has sucked up all the needles. Love Roomba. Also pre-Guru, it rolls out of its stair slot and checks me out, nuzzling my toes like a happy gray trilobite.
I finish my tour—checking every room twice, ingrained caution, nobody home—then pull an Eames chair up in front of the broad floor-to-ceiling window and flop back to stare out over the Sound. The big sky still makes me dizzy, so I try to focus lower down, on the green and white ferries coming and going, and then on the nearly continuous lines of tankers and big cargo ships. Good to know Hanjin and Maersk are still packing blue and orange and brown steel containers along with Hogmaw or Haugley or what the hell. Each container is about a seventh the size of your standard space frame. No doubt filled with clever goods made using Guru secrets, juicing our economy like a snuck of meth.
And for that, too—for them—we fight.
BACKGROUNDER, PART 1
ATS. All True Shit. So we’re told.
The Gurus, whose real name, if it is their real name, is awful hard for humans to pronounce—made their presence known on Earth thirteen years ago, from the depths of the Yemeni desert, where their first scout ship landed. They wanted to establish a beachhead, make sure humans wouldn’t find them and overrun them right away.
They made first contact with a group of camel herders who thought they were djinn, genies, and then, when they judged the time was right, reached out to the rest of humanity. As the story goes, they hacked into telecoms and satlinks, raised a fair pile of money by setting up anonymous trading accounts, then published online a series of pretty amazing puzzles that attracted the attention of the most curious and intelligent. They recruited a few, gave them a preliminary cover story—something about a worldwide brain trust hoping to set up offices in major capitals—and sent them around the planet to organize sanctuaries.
In another online operation, the Gurus and their new recruits led a second select group—military, clandestine services, political—on a merry geocache chase, in quest of something that might point to a huge breach of national security. There was a breach, of course.
It was the Gurus.
Working in this fashion, it became apparent to a few of our best and brightest that they were not dealing with an eccentric rich hermit with an odd sense humor. And there were genuine rewards, rich Easter eggs waiting to be cracked. Linking the most interesting puzzles led logically to some brilliant mathematical and scientific insights. One of these, quantum interlacing, showed the potential of increasing bandwidth in any Shannon-compliant network by a millionfold.
Only then did the Gurus reveal themselves—through another specially trained group of intermediaries. They came in peace. Of course. They planned on being even more helpful, in due time—piecing out their revelations in step sequence, not to upset proprietary apple carts all at once.
World leaders were gradually made aware of the game change, with astonishing tact and political savvy. Citizen awareness followed a few months later, after carefully coached preparation. It seemed the Gurus knew as much about our psychology and sociology as they did about the rules of the universe. They wanted to take things gradual.
And so over a period of six months, the Gurus came forward, moving out in ones and twos from their Yemeni Hadramaut beachhead to world capitals, economic centers, universities, think tanks—transforming themselves into both hostages and indispensable advisors.
The Gurus explained that they are here in tiny numbers because interstellar travel is fantastically difficult and expensive, even at their level of technology. So much had been guessed by our scientists. We still don’t know how many Gurus came to Earth originally, but there are now, at best estimate—according to what our own governments will tell us—about thirty of them. They don’t seem to mind being separated from each other or their own kind, but they keep their human contacts to a few dozen. Some call these select emissaries the Wait Staff.
It took the Gurus a while to drop the other shoe. You can see why, looking back. It was a very big shoe, completely slathered in dog shit.
Just as we were getting used to the new world order—just as we were proving ourselves worthy—the Gurus confessed they were not the only ones out there in the dark light-years. They explained that they had been hounded by mortal enemies from sun to sun, planet to planet, and were in fact now stretched thin—left weak, nearly defenseless.
Gurus were not just being magnanimous with their gifts of tech. They needed our help, and we needed to step up and help them, because these enemies were already inside the far, icy margins of our solar system, were, in fact, trying to establish their own beachhead, but not on Earth.
Some pundits started to call this enemy the Antagonists—Antags. The name stuck. We were told very little about them, except that they were totally bad.
And so our first bill came due. Skyrines were volunteered to help pay. As always.
THE SUN SETS watery yellow in a pall of Seattle gray. Night falls and ships’ lights swim and dance in my tears. I’m still exuding slimy crap. Spacemen can’t use drugs the first few days because our livers are overworked cleaning out residue. It comes out of our skin and sits on our breath like cheap gin and old sweat. Civilian ladies don’t like the stink until we remind them about the money, then some put up with it.
It’s quiet in the apartment. Empty. Spacemen are rarely alone coming or going or in the shit. If we’re not in timeout, there’s always that small voice in the ear, either a fellow Skyrine or your angel. But I don’t really mind being alone. Not for a few hours. Not until Joe comes back and tells me how it all turned out. What the real secret was—about Muskies and the Drifter, the silicon plague, the tower of smart diamonds.
And the Voors, nasty, greedy SOBs who lost almost everything and maybe deserved to lose more. But they didn’t deserve us.
I curl up in the Eames chair and pull up the blanket. I’m so tired, but I’ve got a lot on my mind. Pretty soon, I relive being in the shit.
I HATE PHYSICS
Physics is what kills you, but biology is what wants you dead.
We’re wide awake in the pressure tank at the center of our space frame, fresh from timeout, being pumped full of enthusiasm while the Cosmoline is sponged off by rotating cloths, like going through a car wash except in zero g.
This drop, we’re told there are six space frames falling into insertion orbits. The first four frames hold two fasces, each fascis a revolving cylinder with three sticks like bullets. We call them rotisseries. Each stick carries a squad of Skyrines. That makes two hundred and forty of us, this drop. The fifth and sixth frames carry transport sleds with heavy weapons and vehicles and a couple of fountains. We won’t see any of that until we’re down on the Red.
Once we’re sponged, we pull on skintights, do a final integrity check, strap on sidearms, receive palm-sized spent matter cassettes, then slip on puff packs and climb back into our sticks. Precise, fast, no time to think. Waiting in the stick is not good. The tubes are tight and dark. Our angels play soothing music, but that only makes it worse.
I start to twitch.
What’s taking so long?
Then everything—and I mean everything—hisses and whines and squeals. I’m squashed against my tube on one side, then another, then top, then bottom, and altogether, we sing hallelujah, we’re off!
The fasces spin outward from the frame, cylinders retro-firing to slow and get ready to discharge our sticks. I can’t see anything but a diagram projected on the inside of my faceplate. Cheery. Colorful. All is well.
We’ve begun our drop.
The sticks shoot out of the rotisseries in precise sequence. Bite of atmosphere seems delayed. Feels wrong. Then it starts—the animal roar of entry. Just as the noise outside my stick becomes unbearable, thirty of us shoot from our tubes, out the end of the sticks, and desperately arrange ourselves, clinging to aero shields.
The shields buck in the upper atmosphere.
The sky is filled with Red.
We ride ten to a shield for a few minutes in bouncy, herky-jerk free fall, at the end of which we all roll off. Comes a brief moment of white light and stove-grill heat. One side of my skintight flaps and then settles against my skin. Nice and toasty.
My drop pack spins out millions of threads like gossamer, almost invisibly thin. We call this puff. The threads expand to a lumpy ball fifty meters wide, which wobbles and snatches at Mars’s thin, thin air—and then gloms on to other balls, other Skyrines enveloped in puff.
All around our jammed puffballs, curling thread tips burn away. We’re suspended inside like bugs in flaming cotton candy. It’s spectacular—a lurid, artificial sunrise. I’m breathing like a racehorse at the end of its run. My faceplate fogs. I can barely see, but right away, I know for sure that there’s trouble. The big ball has split early. There are only three Skyrines in my cherry glow. Others have spun off in fiery clumps, and who knows where they’ll land?
The glow burns down closer and closer, brighter and brighter. With gut-check jerks we slow from four klicks per second to one klick per second to one klick per minute, until, just after the last of our puff burns out, just after our packs release and rocket away, smoking, sad, finished …
The three of us flex our knees and land with less-than-gentle thumps.
I pick myself up, surprised I’m still alive. Bad drops are usually fatal. Quick look around. Flat, immense.
Welcome to Mars.
No immediate threat.
Time to freely scream fuck! inside my helm and figure out what the hell went wrong.
I’M WITH TAK AND KAZAK. I think it was DJ and maybe Vee-Def and Michelin I saw thrashing away through the last of our puff sunrise. They may be no more than a klick or two off. The fasces apparently shot our sticks at the apex of insertion rather than low orbit. We’ve been separated from the rest of our platoon, and I have no idea how far away our company may be. They likely came down in a north-south fan, spread across more than a hundred klicks.
We could take days to reassemble.
There are no transport sleds nearby, and therefore no vehicles—no Skells or Tonkas or deuces.
Looks like we’ll be hoofing it.
And no big weapons.
What’s left of our packs falls, still smoking, a few hundred meters north. That’s GPS north—no magnetic field on the Red. Good, I say to myself; sats are still up. We can receive our last-minute tactical and regroup in order. But then my angel loses the signal. The gyro is still good, however, and through my helm grid, I scope out the sun.
The Antags keep bringing down our orbital assets, nav and recon sats and other necessities. Newly arrived space frames keep spewing them out, along with Skyrines and transport sleds, but a lot of the time, when we arrive, we don’t know right away where we are or what we’re supposed to do. We’re trained to just git along. Staying mobile makes you a tougher target. We call it drunkard’s walk, but most of us drunkards are packed tight with prayer—that we’re in range of the rest of our company, an intact sled, maybe a fountain, or at the very least we’ll stumble over a stray tent box.
After four months transvac, the pre-drop cocktail of epi and histamines makes me feel terrific, barring a slight case of the wobbles. I pay no attention to how I feel, nor do Tak or Kazak. We’re all sergeants. We’ve been here before. Our angels coordinate with fast, high-pitched screes, not likely to be heard more than a few tens of meters away. No joy. Nobody has the plan. No fresh recon. NCOs rule at last.
We know all there is to know, for now. But we don’t even know where we’ve touched down.
We bump helms.
“What strength?” Tak asks.
“A squad, no more—in this sector,” I say.
“Whatever fucking sector this is!” Kazak says.
“Northern lowlands,” I guess. “Pressure’s about right.” I scuff brown dust along the flat, rocky hardpan and point north. “DJ and some others skipped over that way.”
DJ is Engineering Sergeant Dan Johnson.
“Then let’s find them,” Tak says.
“Nothing here worth staying for,” Kazak agrees. “Terrible place for a fight—no high ground, almost no terrain. Can’t dig fighting holes in this old shit. Where are we, fucking Hellas? Why drop us in the middle of nothing?”
No answer to that.
We walk, carrying less than five hours of breath and water, armed only with bolt-and-bullet pistols that resemble thick-barreled .45s. Tak Fujimori has an orange stripe on his helm. Tak is from Oakland. He went through vac training and jump school with me at SBLM and Hawthorne. He is compact and strong and very religious, though I’m not sure what religion. Maybe all of them.
- "Stuffed with adrenaline-pumping action and mystifying ambiguity, Bear's series launch is a tempest of rousing SF adventure with a dash of Peckinpah."—Publishers Weekly on War Dogs
- "Military sci-fi, action and adventure, and a whole lot of thought-provoking complexity."—San Diego Union-Tribune on War Dogs
- "Packed with adventure and incident...and conveyed with gritty realism."—Kirkus on War Dogs
- "Greg Bear's voice is a resonant, clear chord of quality binding some of the best SF of the 20th Century to the short list of science-savvy, sophisticated, top-notch speculative fiction of the 21st. More than a grace note, Hull Zero Three is a compelling allegro in the growing symphony of Greg Bear's finest work."—Dan Simmons
- "Hull Zero Three is a grand adventure of scientific discovery in the tradition of "Orphans of the Sky" and "Rendezvous with Rama" -- by turns chilling and touching, it poses challenging questions about what it means to be human."—Charles Stross
- "Not for those who prefer their space opera simple-minded, this beautifully written tale where nothing is as it seems will please readers with a well-developed sense of wonder."—Publisher's Weekly (Starred Review) on Hull Zero Three
- "Greg Bear is one contemporary master of the old ways, and in Hull Zero Three he gives the generation starship theme - crystallized beautifully by Robert Heinlein in 1941's "Universe" - a vigorous makeover...."—BN.com
- On Sale
- Sep 12, 2017
- Page Count
- 960 pages